Lynn Austin’s A Woman’s Place was not on my fall reading list — I don’t think I have read anything of hers before and was unaware of this book until a few weeks ago when I saw it on the shelf of our local Christian bookstore. It caught my eye, but I bypassed it a couple of times before finally deciding to give it a try. It’s the story of four women who, for various reasons, find themselves working at a shipyard during World War II. I don’t want to give away many of the details and spoil it for those who might want to read it, but it covers a lot of ground for one book: the individual stories of each of the women and how they came together, the negative attitudes toward women in the work place, the fate of the husbands, brothers, family members, and friends fighting overseas, the resistance to African-American workers, and journeys of faith. Overall the story was good and I learned a few things I had not known about that era in time.
There were two elements of the book, though, that disturbed, saddened, and frustrated me — it especially disturbed me to find them in Christian fiction from a Christian author.
The first was the demeaning attitude towards housewives. To be fair, I do understand that in a work of fiction the characters are going to hold to and espouse views that are not the author’s and that that provides some of the conflict and plot development in the book. I’m sure that the issues raised were ones that were discussed many times over by people in those situations at that time (and they still are being discussed today). Yet this attitude was presented over and over by most of the characters in many situations, with the phrase “just a housewife” being used over and over, the attitude that one could not be fulfilled or find herself by being “just a housewife,” the attitude that there were many occupations worthier and more important than being “just a housewife.” There was only one female character who had anything positive to say about being “just a housewife” and who viewed it as a ministry of loving God and others.
In all honesty, I hate the term “housewife,” because I am not married to my house. I prefer the word “homemaker” because that is what I see as my first ministry: making a home for my loved ones, a home not just in the physical sense of cleaning and cooking (though that does make up the bulk of the work), but a home where my loved ones can find respite, where they can be nurtured and can grow. Realistically, no, it’s not always romantically idyllic, and, yes, there are moments of drudgery. I think many homemakers do have times of feeling unnoticed and unappreciated as Ginny did in the book. But I think that occurs in any occupation. I don’t think the only solution to that is to go find something more “important” and “fulfilling.” I think the solution is to do everything, even the most humbling tasks, as unto the Lord, to find ways to incorporate beauty and creativity and mental stimulation into everyday life, to reach out to others and find ways of ministering. I wouldn’t say that no Christian wife and mother should ever work outside the home. But I do find my God-given role as a wife and mother both important and fulfilling.
The second recurring theme that bothered me was the defiant, argumentative “standing up to” people, especially people in authority. Now, again, I want to be balanced: I do believe in standing up for what one believes, standing up against injustice, etc. Near the end of the book one of the characters, the wife of a rather domineering and authoritarian husband, says, “The Bible says I must honor you, and I always have. But that doesn’t mean that I must always agree with you. And it doesn’t mean that I can’t tell you what I think.” I do agree with that. But I don’t agree with the spirit that manifested itself in many characters and situations in the book. I think it was wrong for Ginny to defy her husband’s wishes by continuing to work. It’s not that I objected to the plot line, but it bothered me that everyone, even the professing Christians, encouraged her to do so. I’ve been taught that wifely submission is not just the idea that “If push comes to shove…,” “If he insists…,” “If he makes me…, ” then I have to do what he says, but rather it is a voluntary arranging oneself under the husband’s leadership. The only time I could see Biblical justification for a wife to outright defy a husband’s wishes would be if a Scriptural principle were involved (Acts 4:18-20). Again, if this just came up in this one plot line, it would be one thing, but this “standing up to” people with a defiant attitude came up so often it seemed to me to be a theme rather than just an individual plot line.
Those are my impressions, having just finished the book this morning.